Can you decipher the word EMIPRE?

from: ak 442 from 09/28/2000
ak - analysis & criticism
Newspaper for Left Debate and Practice

Even big throws sometimes go wrong

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt on globalization, work and liberation

Antonio Negri, former cult figure not only of Italian left-wing radicalism and ex-operaist lateral thinker, has struck again. Together with Michael Hardt, he presented a brilliant statement on the globalization discussion: "Empire". Authors such as Etienne Balibar and Saskia Sassen come up against hymns of praise, others even see the "Communist Manifesto of the 21st Century". A judgment that is more than daring after reading this 480-page work.

Although so far only available in the English original edition, "Empire" is also hotly debated here; that's no wonder, because Negri and Hardt have big plans. Nothing less than a fundamental analysis of the present. Well aware of the analytical problems of a term like "postmodern", Negri and Hardt nevertheless use it to describe our time as a break in an epoch, as the transition of capitalism from its imperialist to its "imperial" stage. In doing so, they perform a parforce ride through the history of European intellectuals and philosophy that will take your breath away: From ancient Rome to Renaissance humanism to Marx and on to French (post) structuralism. Aristotle, Spinoza, Marx, Nietzsche, Lenin, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari - not an important theorist who goes unprocessed.


Empire instead of imperialism

But Negri and Hardt conduct their analysis of capitalist development not only as a history of political philosophy and ideas. They also claim to decipher the material driving forces behind this development. And finally, they are looking for the postmodern gravedigger, for the forces that can bring the "Empire" down and put global liberation on the agenda. You can see that Negri and Hardt are not satisfied with peanuts, they care about the whole thing.

"Empire" is a provocation in many ways. A provocation in the positive sense, namely that it encourages you to at least review or re-discuss certain familiar terms and ways of thinking. That starts with the title. Imperialism is dead, what is alive is the "empire", the "empire".

Despite all the expansion, political and economic power under imperialism were tied to national sovereignty, from the classic age of imperialism to US domination after World War II. Now, in the age of postmodernism - according to Negri and Hardt - political and economic power no longer has a nation-state location, it is spatially unbounded. The control power of the "Empire" is based on a world-wide enforced logic of rule without a local power center, which instead manifests itself in a highly decentralized apparatus of national and supra-national organs and corporations.

With their thesis of the end of imperialist rule, Negri and Hardt find themselves in the middle of the argument about the current and future face of political power in a globalized, both centralized and decentralized world.

What is unusual for an old operaist like Negri is the strong reference to Foucault and, above all, Gilles Deleuze. According to Negri and Hardt, power is produced. It confronts the ruled not only as something external, manifested in institutions such as administration, police, army or prison. Today, in the transition from the disciplinary society (Foucault) to the control society (Deleuze), power and submission are written directly into the bodies, souls and affects of people and produced there.

Political power and exercise of power in the "Empire" is "biopower" and biopolitics. The word creation "biopolitics" is certainly as dazzling as "Empire". The problem of a worldwide internalization of the logic of domination and power, the penetration of domination and submission on the subjectivity of people, is of considerable political relevance.

The material basis of "biopolitics" and imperial rule are the new forms of production and labor. These, according to their earlier developed thesis, are nowadays increasingly "immaterial". This means two things: On the one hand, a complete penetration of the classic industrial production process with the new forms of informatics, computerization, communicative networks and knowledge production. Secondly, "immaterial work" also means that with communication technology, communicative skills and knowledge of communication processes and structures, not only goods and services are produced, but also social relationships, the mindsets, feelings and affects of people themselves.

For Negri and Hardt, immaterial labor becomes the dominant form of work in society, and the working class is given a new face. The mass worker of the Fordist factory is replaced as a hegemonic figure by the "social worker" with almost unlimited communication skills, highly mobile and flexible and with enormous social competence.

But here it takes revenge that Negri and Hardt generously forego any empirical data in their book. With their heroes of immaterial labor, they orientate themselves on a deeply ideological picture of the beautiful, healthy IT world. The least that can be said about employment relationships in the so-called "New Economy" is that they are highly heterogeneous. Often enough they are extremely Taylorized and standardized mass work. Even in the much-vaunted new Internet companies, communication is often a mere formal quality that says nothing at all about its political or social content. And who doesn't know the stories of the ingenious, but nonetheless solitary, communication-incapable software developers.

Wherever communicative competence is indeed required, there are master, foreman and department head positions in post-Fordist factories and offices. In terms of content, however, communicative skills are synonymous with domination technique, domination knowledge and control. Social competence is used here for submission. The term "social worker" suggests a similar homogeneity to that of the mass workers of the 1960s, a homogeneity that does not exist today in terms of working conditions, competencies and work organization.

But Negri and Hardt not only have a certain tunnel vision of real working conditions. You also have a more than questionable concept of work. For them, immaterial work is limitless, production and reproduction are just as indistinguishable as working time and leisure time. Everything is productive work. While left-wing works councils and trade union activists are looking for forms of resistance against the unlimited access of capital to working hours and want to "re-measure work", Negri and Hardt cheer for the excessiveness of work.


Intangible labor - excessive productivity

Where classical operaism still linked the centrality of work with the political program of a struggle against work, there Negri and Hardt turn work-centeredness into unlimited praise of productivity. In "immaterial work" every human impulse is work and "bio-production". This way of reasoning becomes either a definitional trick or an indirect declaration of war on anything "unproductive" that may still remain. For Negri and Hardt, the demand for a social wage or a guaranteed income is actually a wage demand, a service in return for work. The idea of ​​an unconditional right to exist that is not tied to anything in return and a corresponding subsistence money is completely alien to the two.

Just as they take up the operaist thesis of the centrality of work and radicalize it into a limitless and expansive productivism, so Negri and Hardt also deal with the class conflicts. They sharply oppose any historical mechanics: Nothing happens if the acting subjects, i.e. the working class, do not let it happen. All developments and reactions of capital are reflexes to the needs and struggles of the proletariat.


Problematic Mantra

The problem with such a view is not the emphasis on class disputes per se. It is now almost a left-wing truism that the fighting in the late 1960s and early 1970s played an essential role in the crisis of so-called Fordism. But in the course of the argument, the dominant role of class disputes in Negri and Hardt increasingly becomes an incantation that replaces the nuanced analysis.

The biopolitical control techniques and the global rule of the "Empire" become helpless reactions to the outstanding social and communicative competencies of the worldwide proletariat. The power of the "Empire" becomes an empty shell that only has to be stripped off, and communism stands there in all its worldwide glory. Wow!

Negri and Hardt rightly emphasize again and again that there is no "outside" in globalized capitalism. Resistance can only develop from the - meanwhile worldwide - "inside of the beast". However, as Negri and Hardt point out, the political power of the "Empire" is based not only on sheer repression, but on access to people's bodies and psyche in the form of voluntary self-submission. Unfortunately, both of the readers do not tell the reader how against this background and in which struggles liberation needs - and thus a class subject - are developed at all. Despite the totality of imperial power, Negri and Hardt are far from criticizing the globalization processes as such. An anti-globalization stance widespread among the left, often combined with national-state-oriented demands for re-regulation, is not their business. On the contrary, to the extent that globalization tears down national orientations, spatial boundaries, ethnic divisions, etc., it prepares the stage for human emancipation on a world scale.

As sensible as it is to emphasize a global and cosmopolitan idea of ​​emancipation against tendencies towards left re-nationalization or re-localization, Negri and Hardt go nuts, to put it mildly, in the way that they fantasize about a boundless and unified subject of liberation. To emphasize the tendency towards a worldwide harmonization of proletarian life situations, as Karl Heinz Roth did, for example, is one thing. At the same time, however, simply writing down nationalist and racist lines of division that actually exist - and are growing worldwide - as Negri and Hardt do, leads to mysticism.

After reading Empire, the impression remains very divided. The book certainly offers a lot of material for necessary arguments. From the form of political rule in the globalized world to the various aspects of the microphysics of power, from the analysis of post-Fordist production to the recomposition of the proletariat, this book offers valuable suggestions for discussion despite all the criticism. As a political program, however, it is more than problematic: Its radical productivism and the perspective of limitless rule of productive work have more of an impact, especially in a time when the New Center propagates the activating state, lifelong work and productivity right down to the last manifestations of life Submission and surrender as from liberation. In the worst case, "Empire" mutates into a new ideology of rule.

Dirk Hauer

Antonio Negri / Michael Hardt: Empire. Harvard Univesity Press 2000. 480 pages, $ 35. The book delivery company Missing Link in Bremen offers the book at a special price of 73 DM (including postage):
Missing Link, Westerstr. 114-116, 28199 Bremen, Tel .: 0421/50 43 48,

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